My dear friend’s mother had died and I wanted to go to her funeral. I really, really wanted to go. For a person with social anxiety, it’s a little like asking me to hang by a crochet thread over a pit of crocodiles, but I put my foot down and insisted. The first indicator that the SA wasn’t going to give up without a fight was a sleepless night. I woke up late and uncoordinated (I also have MS). I allowed myself one cup of decaf and started making deals with myself.
“I will take a shower and see how I feel after that.” “I will eat breakfast and see how I feel after that.” “I will get my clothes ready, just in case I feel I can go.” “I will get dressed just like I’m really going.” All the while, I had to assure myself that I would be able to back out at any time. All the way out to my vehicle, all the way into town, all the way to the church . . . “You can just turn around any time you can’t bear it.” Of course, I had sabotaged myself by running late. Driving to the church in a panic doesn’t do much for an attitude of peace and acceptance.
I drove through the church parking lot, dismayed at all the cars (of course, at 100 years of age, and having been a golden soul, Esther would have a crowd). An elderly man arrived at the same time, and I waved, hoping we could walk in together, but he was surprisingly fast. I walked through the parking lot to the door, telling myself that it would not be at all odd if I turned and ran, but “for now, just try to open the door.” I went inside, confronted with the image of the family circled in prayer in the narthex for the procession into the apse. With an inward groan, I realized I was really late. I spotted the basket for cards right near the door, and thought “I could just drop off the card and leave.” But I wanted to see my friend.
Still negotiating, I dropped the card in the basket and thought “just move to the back of the crowd for now.” I stood uncertainly in a doorway until I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hi, Mary! How are you? You look great!” My old boss and dear friend Debbie was smiling me through another wave of panic. We chatted a little and she said “I’ll help you find a seat in the church.” And that was that, I was ushered to a pew in which sat another old friend.
“Want to sit here?” She scooted over and smiled. I sat beside her, Debbie patted my shoulder and went back to her funeral service duties. The service began, and I took some deep, calming breaths. I’m sure my pew friend thought I was falling asleep. Esther’s son told stories of her life, some I knew, others I had never heard, all very sweet, and some very funny. We prayed, we sang, we shared our love for Esther and her family, and I couldn’t help but think it was a service she would have planned for herself. Through all that precious time, I was still fighting my battle, still promising that I could leave if it got unbearable “but just stay through this song, through this prayer, through the sermon, and this song—you love this song . . .” And I made it through the entire service.
Would I stay after the funeral? I hadn’t had a chance to talk to my friend, and the family had left for the cemetery service before returning for lunch . . . so yes, I stayed for the lunch, and sat at a table with my kind pew partner and her friend and have a delightful time. I was feeling a little more comfortable, but as flighty as a chickadee, no longer bargaining, just wondering how long I would make it.
Then my friend arrived and I asked her if she could sit with me for a few minutes. It was so good to talk to her, the time stretched to . . . well, I had no watch, so I don’t know how long. That was the beauty of it—the anxiety had gone, the SA was held at bay while we talked and laughed and remembered our moms, and I didn’t need to negotiate with myself for one more minute. As I drove home, the weight of the world off my shoulders, it occurred to me that I might just conquer my social anxiety in this way: break it down into steps, allow myself an out without actually letting it happen, and let the purpose of my being there take precedence over my desire to escape.
I’m glad I made it work today, and glad that I had friends to help me. I really wanted to be at Esther’s funeral.